Why bar parents from helping on homework?
Westfield High School Principal Tim Thomas has wisely ruled against further use of the infamous “Expectations of Integrity” homework guidelines that caused such an uproar at his very large and competitive Fairfax County high school.
The guidelines were handed out by three Advanced Placement World History teachers. They said: “You are only allowed to use your OWN knowledge, your OWN class notes, class handouts, your OWN class homework, or ‘The Earth and Its Peoples’ textbook to complete assignments and assessments UNLESS specifically informed otherwise by your instructor.” Students were barred from using anything they found on the Internet or even discussing their assignments with friends, classmates or parents.
Fairfax County schools spokesman Paul Regnier told me, in a terse e-mail, that what I consider a clumsy attempt to discourage cheating and encourage independent thought was no more. Regnier said the teachers and Thomas declined to talk to me about the guidelines and his decision to spike them.
I am sure the AP teachers meant well, but it seemed to me, and many readers, that out of fear of cheating, they had outlawed curiosity. Many of us know the delight of exploring a library, or the Internet, for the answer to some obscure question. “Expectations of Integrity” made that a no-no.
I congratulate Thomas for his good sense in reversing these anti-scholarly rules. I wish he would explain his thinking, particularly about the teachers’ odd view of what best stimulates critical thinking and their assumption that parental involvement in assignments should be discouraged.
In principle, I agree with readers who said the teachers were right to encourage students to think independently and identify questions the textbook had failed to answer. Standard analysis, for instance, suggests 15th-century Chinese exploration of the Indian Ocean ended because of imperial court intrigues and a Chinese cultural distaste for the outside word. A thoughtful student might ask how that would outweigh the mercantile spirit that spread Chinese traders throughout Southeast Asia.
The problem is, a textbook might not mention that Chinese diaspora. The Westfield students were sophomores. Did they know enough to think critically about what the textbook was telling them? Some apparently didn’t even know how much textbooks typically leave out. Commenting on my blog, one student in the course said his teacher “didn’t want us to use anything but the book BECAUSE all the information was in the book.”
Any student who believes that assertion should be encouraged, indeed required, to seek other sources of information. Among the best people to talk to in many cases are their parents.
Burt Mazia of Rockville recalled his shock at how his daughter’s AP history textbook “boiled down events into a few sentences.” It was enjoyable and instructive for parent and child to hash out these issues at home. “I could see her become a thinker,” he said.
Carl “Cj” Horn, an Army officer with a doctorate in history, said he and his wife Kim (who has an MBA) do not see their homework discussions with their children as an unfair advantage but as “value-added for the teacher.” “We encourage them to ask questions and then help them find sources for the answers,” he said.
The high test scores and college-enrollment rates that area public schools brag of are strongly influenced by the fact that this area has a larger portion of college graduates than any other U.S. region. That’s a good thing. Why wouldn’t the teachers at Westfield want to pass on the intellectual benefits of that to their students?
| December 1, 2010; 8:00 PM ET
Categories: Local Living | Tags: Expectations of Integrity,, Fairfax County, Paul Regnier, Westfield High School, homework guidelines criticized, parents helpful with homework, principal Tim Thomas
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